The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

So the latest meeting of the Chamonix Book Club was I think the most successful yet, or at least certainly the most informative; we’re getting better at this! The book under scrutiny was ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by JK Rowling, and having a few avid Harry Potter fans amongst us, we were unsure of what to expect.

For the first time since we began book club, I think it’s safe to say that the book was thoroughly enjoyed by all members, even those who will happily admit that they would rather choose a non-fiction book any day. But that is the beauty of a book club, people have to read books they have never heard of and wouldn’t ordinarily choose; thus broadening their horizons and opening their mind to something new.

The book is set in Pagford, a fictional sleepy village in rural England that many of us can identify with in one way or another. The story opens with the sudden death of one of the members of the local Parish Council, leaving a ‘casual vacancy’ which must therefore be filled. The rest of the story introduces us to the diverse and interesting residents of Pagford; following their individual stories and exploring how they intertwine; hinting at the secrets and unrest which lurk behind closed doors in a village which on the outside seems textbook picturesque and idyllic.

The overwhelming response was that Rowling’s development and description of characters was outstanding and left everyone feeling that they really got to know all the characters intimately. It was also widely agreed that for such a meaty book there was very little plot and overall, not much actually happened. This week’s host had handily prepared some discussion questions which proved to be great talking points; one of the main ones being the topic of which of the characters were people’s favourites and least favourites.

You are left feeling anger and irritation towards some characters and real empathy and sadness towards others, although surprisingly not everyone had the same opinion on who they liked and disliked. I was particularly interested in the suggestion that society tends to view a heroin junkie such as Terri Weedon as scum who are simply a drain on resources, yet Rowling manages to show the other, sadder side of such a plight and encourages her readers to consider circumstances such as drug addiction from a different perspective; showing how it can be a perpetuating spiral that is passed on to the next generation.

The Casual Vacancy is a very easy read and despite containing very little action or drama, is a real page turner. Rowling clearly understands real life, and especially village life. I would challenge anyone to read this story and claim that they couldn’t identify with a single character. Her story represents the vast variety of characters we will all come across at some point in our lives and shows that what we see on the outside doesn’t always reflect what is really going on.

I would be interested to see what others think of the ending, as we had mixed opinions here in the book club. Some liked it, a few had alternative endings that they were expecting and others felt disappointed that after 500 pages of strong description and very little action, Rowling felt the need to finish with a big dramatic climax.

Overall this book was thoroughly enjoyed by all and a great success, I would certainly recommend it and congratulate JK Rowling on a very successful foray in to the world of adult fiction!

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